Cooper administration pitches parking modernization for Nashville 

John Cooper takes the oath of office on Saturday, September 30th at Stratford STEM Magnet High School in East Nashville as the ninth mayor of Nashville's metropolitan government. (Photo: Nashville.gov)
John Cooper takes the oath of office on Saturday, September 30th at Stratford STEM Magnet High School in East Nashville as the ninth mayor of Nashville's metropolitan government. (Photo: Nashville.gov)

Nashville Mayor John Cooper is reviving a push to modernize the city’s paid parking operation, filing legislation last week to overhaul the program and solicit bids from outside companies to manage it.

Metro plans to publish a Smart Parking request for proposals (RFP) with the goal of hiring a management partner to upgrade and more efficiently operate the city’s parking meters and parking garage. Any funds collected through the new arrangement will be earmarked for traffic and parking improvements across the city.

Modernizing the city’s parking operations was a hot button issue in 2019, when then-Mayor David Briley pitched a privatization plan with the goal of using revenue generated by the contract to help balance the budget. Cooper, serving as an at-large councilman at the time, bashed the plan while running for mayor.

Whereas the 2019 plan proposed to lease the parking operations to a private company for up to 30 years in exchange for up-front payments and then split future revenues, Cooper’s administration is seeking to hire a contractor to manage the program. The vendor would operate the program and be in charge of modernizing the parking technology.

As part of the plan, Cooper wants to conduct a study of parking rates, inventory and assets throughout Davidson County to analyze how the parking system is performing and how it can be upgraded.

Stakeholders believe the city is leaving several million dollars on the curb annually by not running its parking program efficiently.

In the language of the legislation filed last week, Cooper’s administration said the city’s parking program “is in need of modernization” and “is not as efficient and convenient as it could be.”

Briley’s plan called for the incorporation of smartphone apps so customers could reserve and pay for parking without stuffing coins into a meter. The privatization proposal pitched by Briley would have generated $325 million in revenue for the city over 30 years. Metro would have received $34 million up front and then split revenue generated in the future with the contractor under Briley’s outsourcing proposal.

But, the plan had its share of critics. Some questioned the use of such one-time sales to balance the budget – an issue elevated when then state Comptroller Justin Wilson scrutinized the city’s finances – and others believed Metro wasn’t getting the best possible deal.

Faye DiMassimo provided Metro Council with an overview of the city’s parking program last year. The city’s 1,700 metered spots generated about $1 million in parking revenue in fiscal year 2019, according to DiMassimo’s report. The report recommended implementing demand-based pricing for desirable downtown spaces, improving parking enforcement, extending hours of operation and consider increasing the $11 fines for illegal parking at city-owned meters.

“Updating our street meters and improving parking operations is overdue,” Cooper spokeswoman Andrea Fanta said. “We are proud to say that the city will retain ownership of the parking assets and control of the revenue stream. Nashville is leaving millions of dollars on the curb every year, so this is all about a smarter way of doing parking in a growing city.”